The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen
The titular ‘place’ of Tess Gerritsen’s pacy new thriller is stumbled upon by a hapless group of holidaymakers after, as befits a crime-driven novel in which suspense must be ramped up quickly and the pitch maintained, they suffer irreparable vehicular damage in just the fifth chapter.
Among those on board is Dr Maura Isles, a beloved recurrent Gerritsen character who has, against her better judgement, accepted the invitation of a weekend excursion to a ski lodge from a former classmate she has run into at a medical conference in Wyoming.
Now, in a snowstorm, the stranded quintet trudges along a lonely back-road looking for the slightest sign of civilization, and thinks it has found it in the form of a village bearing the sign KINGDOM COME. But the village is preceded by a two-mile long road, at the top of which is another sign – Private Road / Residents Only / Area Patrolled – suggesting that the Kingdom Come residents might not be warm and welcoming.
But needs must, and the book’s foreboding tone, set by the initial car accident in severe conditions, deepens further as the travellers arrive at a completely abandoned settlement. The garages hold cars, tables are set with plated food, windows are open and cupboards fully stocked. But where are the people? Why is the frozen body of a dog lying under a dusting of snow outside one house? And in another dwelling, where did the puddle of blood at the base of the stairs come from?
Back in Boston, where Maura lives, the apparent vanishing of the doctor prompts her friend, Detective Jane Rizzoli, to up sticks and head to Wyomingto assist the search team looking for the missing group. As the searchers work their way towards Kingdom Come, and evidence that the five may be lost for good is discovered, Jane is forced to rely on her instincts and a tight cadre of trusted colleagues as the reliably dysfunctional concept of the ‘religious commune’ hoves into the reader’s view.
Gerritsen’s style is unadorned, as befits the genre: there are few mellifluous descriptive phrases to demand re-reading and admiration. It is her characterization that is a great strength – after seven novels featuring Isles and Rizzoli, she is clearly comfortable with the pair and other than nudging them towards key plot points seems happy to let them take the lead.
They lack all the dimension of the key players of some of Gerritsen’s writerly rivals, but are permitted sufficient introspection and back-story to appeal to the imagination, and after all, an enthusiastic thriller reader only has to care a little for the protagonists to happily join their adventure.
Meanwhile, the sharpness of Gerritsen’s content can be attributed to her training as a medical doctor, and she has long balanced her practice with writing, logically producing (among the odd excursion into romantic suspense) a handsome back catalogue of medical thrillers in addition to the Isles/Rizzoli series.
In the case of The Killing Place, the end results of the characters’ quest for truth is surprising and unsettling, taking the novel, previously developing within a relatively narrow, personal frame, into the realm of the political and industrial. Even the most jaded reader will likely be shocked.
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz